A day in the life

You might be curious about how a day on the farm here looks like. It depends what season you’re talking about, for summer is very different to winter. But as we’re in summer now, let’s concentrate on the farm in the summer months.

Let’s assume it’s one of those lovely sunny mornings. After a ten minute walk to work, taking in the beauty of the island in the clear morning light, I arrive somewhere between 7.30 and 8am to open up the polytunnels and glasshouse. You don’t want heat building up too quick, as it’ll be plenty hot enough in there by early afternoon.

Then it’s straight to the salad fields, as this is the crop that will wilt quickest in the heat. It must be picked fresh and cool. We pick between 2 and 6kg per day, 6 days per week. This can take from 30 mins to 1 1/2 hours to do, so on busy days I like to start picking at 7.30. Occasionally, when there is a real time pressure to get an order out early, a much earlier start happens!

Once the salad is picked it’s back to the packing shed to bag the salad, then on with the next crops. The next crops to get in are the ones growing in polytunnels, including cucumbers, tomatoes, grapes and basil. Next it’s outdoor crops such as courgettes or kale. Lastly will be potatoes and carrots, which are less sensitive to heat.

Once all the crops are portioned up (bagged, bunched and weighed), orders are put together. On the easiest days this is just to our veg stall, but for four days a week this also means deliveries to other businesses. Two of these days will mean getting to the quay to deliver on the launch or post boat, which arrive at specific times. It can always be quite a juggle getting there on time!

Later morning is a time for tidying up and doing a few small jobs, before a well earned lunch. Afternoons are for planting, weeding, sowing, mending tractors, woodwork…a whole host of possible jobs that are needed to keep the farm going.

However what always puts a spanner in the works is a hot afternoon. Apart from being really tiring to work in and the desire to be lying on the beach a stone’s throw away is overwhelming, it’s actually a bad time to do anything except perhaps weeding. Planting – they’ll just wilt; watering – no point; sowing – too hot in the glasshouse.

Also throw in to the equation that hot days mean lots of watering, but there’s no point starting that until 6pm at the earliest. So given the amount of hours needed, it makes more sense to go back to the office, and/or spend some family time in the afternoon.

After dinner it’s back down to the farm to water tunnels, glasshouse and anything outside that needs perking up. Often this is finished after sunset, rewarded with a walk home in the darkening sky and last of the day’s bird song. 

But when do I fit in those jobs in the tunnel (like sideshooting tomatoes), sowing in the glasshouse, or planting 700 lettuce – without them frazzling in the following day’s sun? We growers fret over the daily, weekly and monthly weather forecast, for good reason. Knowing what you can do, when is key to the grower’s success and planning.

It’s a great and rewarding job to do, but presents a lot of challenges and long hours. All for very little pay. You have to be very committed to make it work!

Jonathan Smith

I started Scilly Organics in 2003, and it was the first certified organic farm on the Islands. We continue to supply the highest quality fruit and vegetables, available fresh on our stall and at certain eateries on Scilly.